32: John Le Carre and the Cold War with Toby Manning

About John Le Carre and the Cold War

John Le Carre and the Cold War author Toby Manning tells us more his latest book on the Spybrary Spy Podcast
John Le Carre and the Cold War author Toby Manning tells us more his latest book on the Spybrary Spy Podcast

Toby Manning recently published his work which critically examines John Le Carre and the Cold War. Toby joins Shane Whaley on the Spybrary Spy Podcast to tell us more. Toby became a Le Carre fan at the age of 13. Having watched the Alec Guinness Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy TV series, he was hooked and his mother bought him a copy of the novel that Christmas.  He went on to study the works of Le Carre and has spent many hours trawling through the John Le Carre archive at Bodleain Library, Oxford and reading 100s of reviews of Le Carre's books at the British Library.

John Le Carre and the Cold War - Toby Manning

Taken from the Bloombury Publishing Website:

John le Carré and the Cold War explores the historical contexts and political implications of le Carré's major Cold-War novels. The first in-depth study of le Carré this century, this book analyses his work in light of key topics in 20th-century history, including containment of Communism, decolonization, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cambridge spy-ring, the Vietnam War, the 70s oil crisis and Thatcherism.

Examining The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), Smiley's People (1979) and other novels, this book offers an illuminating picture of Cold-War Britain, while situating le Carré's work alongside that of George Orwell, Graham Greene and Ian Fleming. Providing a valuable contribution to contemporary understandings of both British spy fiction and post-war fiction, Toby Manning challenges the critical consensus to reveal a considerably less radical writer than is conventionally presented.

In this interview Toby Manning reveals:


  • What prompted him to write about John Le Carre and the Cold War
  • Why this book is not solely aimed at academics and historians.
  • Why John Le Carre was subject to literary snobbery despite outselling Ian Fleming and Len Deighton
  • What kind of villain was Karla?
  • Why there is a resurgence in cold war books, movies and TV cold war/spy dramas?
  • Why is Le Carre still popular today?
  • More about the John Le Carre archive.
  • What he thought of the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

And Much More!

The hour flew by and I hope Toby Manning will come back onto the show as there are a lot more John Le Carre and the Cold War topics to discuss. Maybe a panel episode soon?

Chapters included in John Le Carre and the Cold War
Introduction: ‘A Nation's Political Health'

The enemy
The state
The nation
Cold-War consensus to critical consensus

Chapter 1. ‘Murderers and Spies': The Communist Threat and Call for the Dead
‘Mass philosophy': The Cold-War enemy
‘A symbol of nothing at all': The British state
‘Deep love of England': Imagining the nation
‘Who was then the gentleman?': Nation, state and enemy

Chapter 2. ‘Breeze Blocks and Barbed Wire': The Berlin Wall and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
‘Party Terms': The communist enemy
‘Not quite a gentleman': Leamas and the classless British nation
‘We are defensive': English empiricism, ideology and the British state

Chapter 3. ‘Looking at His Own Reflection': The Establishment and The Looking Glass War
‘A sort of Cuba situation': Reflections of the enemy
‘Government hirings': The Department, the Circus and the British state
‘The mystery of England': The nation and class

Chapter 4. ‘Holding the World Together': The Cambridge Spies and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
‘The imminent collapse of the nation': England and the establishment
‘Russians taken over the government': The infiltrated British state
‘Fanaticism' and ‘mindless treason': Enemy characterization
‘Haydon's crooked deathmask': State, nation and enemy

Chapter 5. ‘All One Vanishing World': The Honourable Schoolboy, Colonialism and Communism
‘Her colonial grip': Britain, the Empire and the special relationship
‘A spreading plague': Communism and Southeast Asia

Chapter 6. ‘Only People': Humanism, Populism, the Second Cold War and Smiley's People
‘Deniable blessing': Smiley and the British state
‘British to the core': Smiley's tour of the nation
‘The danger is absolute”: Karla and communism
‘Half-angels' and ‘half-devils': Smiley, Karla and the Cold War

Conclusion: ‘Man, Not the Mass'
The enemy
The state
The nation

Appendix I: Plot Synopses

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Resources mentioned in Episode 32 of Spybrary Spy Podcast – John Le Carre and the Cold War

Bloomsbury Publishers Official Site

Buy Toby Manning's John Le Carre and The Cold War on Amazon

Books by John Le Carre explored in John Le Carre and the Cold War

Call for the Dead
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
The Looking Glass War
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Honourable Schoolboy
Smiley's People

A Legacy of Spies

Rereading: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold – William Boyd

John Le Carre – A Tinker Tailor A to Z

TV Spy Drama

The Game
Deutschland 83
Berlin Station

More Interviews Articles on John Le Carre and the Cold War

Jeff Quest Spywrite interview with Toby Manning

How the Berlin Wall Inspired John Le Carre's third novel – Greg Mitchell


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2 Responses
  1. Tim Bushell

    Director of a travel company… … which part do you play in “The Americans” : ))))

    Nicely done, a nice wander through John’s works, not quite as softly as George would have done but close : ))))